When "Spring Baking Championship" returns to Food Network Monday at 9 p.m., Port Jefferson Station's Clinton Kelly will be returning with it for a second season.
The latest of the culinary competition's four hosts — following Food Network mainstay Bobby Deen, "The Bachelor" season-5 star Jesse Palmer and former "Cheap Eats" host Ali Khan — Kelly had risen to prominence as a co-host and fashion maven on TLC's 2003-2013 makeover series "What Not to Wear." He followed this with a serieslong stint as a panelist on ABC's 2011-2018 food-themed daytime talk show "The Chew."
"After 'The Chew,' I really was looking for projects that were going to bring a little bit of happiness and smiles to people's faces,” avers Kelly, 51. "I just wanted to be a part of feel-good television."
He calls "Spring Baking Championship" — on which 11 bakers this sixth season vie for a $25,000 prize before judges Nancy Fuller, Duff Goldman and Lorraine Pascale — "a really good fit. It's just really lovely people making beautiful, delicious desserts and cheering each other on. Of course they all want to win, but they're really nice to each other."
Kelly was born in Panama City, Panama, where his military father was stationed during the Vietnam War. "My mother, being the dutiful wife at the age of 19, lived with him in military housing," he says. "There was no air conditioner in her apartment, and when she was eight, nine months pregnant, she would get on the bus every day to go to a movie theater that was air-conditioned and watched the same movie over and over" — a Clint Eastwood film that "I'm 99.9 percent sure was" the 1968 Western "Hang 'Em High." Since "Clint Eastwood sort of saved her" from the heat, he says, "she decided, ‘If this is a boy, I'm going to name him Clint!' "
Kelly's parents separated when he was months old, and his mother Theresa moved to Long Island and eventually married general contractor Mike Sciabarasi, whom Kelly considers his father. The family grew with two sisters: Courtney Kilroy, a co-founder of the Pilates studio Mindful Movement, in Port Jefferson, and Jodi Tenney, of Connecticut.
Kelly attended various elementary schools before his folks settled in Port Jefferson Station. He went to John F. Kennedy Middle School and Comsewogue High School, where the 1987 graduate has twice returned to give the commencement address. Kelly got his bachelor's degree at Boston College and then a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University.
As for growing up in Port Jefferson Station, he remembers the heady days when pre-helicopter parents let kids roam their neighborhoods.
"My greatest memories of growing up on Long Island," Kelly says, "has to do with the freedom of getting on a bicycle. Back in the '70s, the rule was — and we're talking, like, first grade, second grade, third grade — just be home before sunset." Then he would hear his mother calling out his name "and I knew it was time to come in. But, like, all day long — she'd pack me a lunch!"